Central Lobby: Localism and Decentralisation

Central Lobby

Welcome to Central Lobby, the new monthly bulletin from Parliament's Education Service. We'll bring you news about the latest bills going through Parliament, the hottest topics of debate, and some activities to try out in the classroom.

This is the second pilot edition of Central Lobby. If it is successful then we hope to launch a regular monthly edition later in the year, so we would welcome your feedback.

The Localism Bill and decentralisation in the UK

This month we're focusing on local government and the decentralisation of power from Westminster to communities. The UK's main political parties all support the idea of devolving more power, but what form should this take?

The Localism Bill is currently passing through Parliament and it could change the way that central and local governments interact with each other and local communities. Twelve cities in England and Wales will hold a referendum on whether to elect mayors, local people will have greater rights to initiate referendums on local issues, and local communities will have new powers to run services for themselves.

Do your students know which of their local services are organised by their local council and which are the responsibility of the national government? Should this balance be changed and if so, in what way? And how centralised do they think government in the UK should be? They can find out more about the bill, below, to spark their ideas.

From Susan, Alice and the team at Parliament's Education Service

In one minute: Decentralisation

We gave two MPs one minute to answer the question: 'To what extent do you think power should be decentralised in the UK?' 

Further information

The Localism Bill - what will it change?

The Localism Bill has two several strands, including: 

Community empowerment

  • Buying local assets - community groups will be able to take over and run local assets and services, such as pubs, shops and libraries, if councils want to sell the asset or hand over the service.
  • Elected mayors - residents in twelve more cities in England and Wales will be asked whether they want a democratically elected mayor. Mayors will have greater powers than traditional, ceremonial mayors.
  • Council tax - local communities will have the power to veto excessive council tax increases.
  • Referendums - local residents will have the power to instigate referendums on any issue, although the results will not be binding.

Planning and housing

  • Housing authorities will have more power to decide who can apply to live in housing association accommodation and for how long.
  • Planning will take place at a neighbourhood level, rather than a regional level, and Local Authorities must co-operate with local groups on planning issues.

Do your students think that their local communities should have more powers, and what form should these powers take?

Find out more:

The Localism Bill - what are the issues?

Devolving more power to local authorities is an idea that all the main political parties support. However, there are different ways to achieve this. Here are some of the issues you will hear discussed.

  • If central government wants to devolve power, who should it be devolved to? Local authorities? Volunteer groups and other community groups? What do your students think?
  • Does central government still have the final say on local issues?
  • How should the government ensure that good local services are available nationwide and that access to services isn't dependent on where you live?
  • Should all government departments apply the principle of localism when they can or should the Department for Communities and Local Government be the focus of efforts to decentralise power?
  • How should local councillors be held to account? The Localism Bill will abolish the Standards Regime, a code of conduct for local councillors. In future, the responsibility will lie with local people to use local elections to remove councillors who do not fulfil their role well. Which method would your students prefer?

Read a Commons Select Committee's analysis of the main issues in the Localism Bill

Select Committees take evidence from experts, scrutinise the work of government, and publish reports.

Explore decentralisation in your classroom

What do government ministers, members of the opposition, local representatives, and others think about decentralisation? We have put together a range of source materials including quotes from key figures, videos and charts to help your students understand the issues.

The downloadable classroom resource below gives students a series of questions to answer, based on the sources, as an individual study exercise or part of a group discussion.

Download the source materials and questions

You can also watch videos of Barbara Keeley MP and Greg Clark MP talking about whether they think more cities in the UK should have democratically elected mayors. Greg Clark MP considers the national and international profile that a mayor can give a city, while Barbara Keeley MP talks about the advantages of mayors for cities of different sizes and the importance of letting local people decide.

From last time: House of Lords reform

In the last issue of Central Lobby we reported on the reforms to the House of Lords proposed by Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister. These include making the House of Lords partially or wholly elected using a system of proportional representation.

Since then, the House of Lords has begun discussing the proposals.

If you missed the previous issue of Central Lobby, you can still read it on our website. It looks at the outcome of the AV referendum, House of Lords reform, and fixed-term parliaments.

Other news from Parliament

Some of the top stories this month:

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, made a statement on the Prevent strategy, launched in 2007, which aims to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism in the UK and overseas.

The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has announced changes to the Health and Social Care Bill. Some parts of the bill will now be re-examined by a committee, and experts and members of the public will have an opportunity to have their say.

A House of Lords Select Committee has reported that the EU will need to invest time, money and practical resources in South Sudan to ensure it becomes a viable state, after its declaration of independence on 9 July.

The House of Commons Education Select Committee has published a report on extra-curricular activities for young people, including government proposals for a summer school for 16-year-olds.

What do your students think about these issues? 

Who am I? - This month's guest: Chris Sear

Chris Sear'I am a researcher in the Parliament and Constitution Centre in the House of Commons Library. I have worked in the House of Commons for almost 25 years and, at the moment, my main responsibility is for issues affecting local government.

I spend my time answering questions from MPs and writing research papers, including some of those linked from this newsletter. I also read a lot of newspapers and press comments to help me keep up to date with my subject.

Here are some things you won't know about me:

In 1992 I was working on the loans desk in the Library when former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left power. She didn't think she had any library books checked out, but it turned out she did. I wasn't quite sure how to go about contradicting a former prime minister, but she took it very well and went off to find the books.

I was once working late on a Friday night in the Palace of Westminster when I heard a click and discovered that I had been locked in. Fortunately I managed to find a way into the Speaker's apartments, where I met a security guard who escorted me out.

I play in the House of Commons staff versus MPs cricket match each year, and once I was lucky enough to bowl five MPs out.'

Tell us what you think

As this is a pilot edition of Central Lobby, we would love to hear your views. We have put together a short survey that won't take more than a few minutes to fill in. To thank you for your time, we have one box of House of Commons chocolates to give away to one respondent drawn at random.

We will be evaluating Central Lobby over the summer and may launch it as a regular monthly bulletin in the autumn if we receive positive feedback.

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